Disclaimer: The title of this post is kind of a joke. As far as I know, there is no Litvish/Galitzianer babka dichotomy. I only gave this post its title because Maggie Glezer calls her babka Lithuanian Babka and I used an alternate filling for half of the dough to make a different kind of babka. The recipe for that alternate filling came from my grandmother (Z”L), and that side of my family is Galitzianer. But, my grandmother had used the filling in what she and her friends just called coffeecake, not Galitzianer Babka.
It all started with me wanting to make a yeast bread with cardamom, chocolate, and coffee flavors. The obvious approach was babka with cardamom in the dough and a chocolate-coffee filling.
Maggie Glezer has an interesting recipe for Lithuanian Babka in A Blessing of Bread that always appealed to me. The recipe comes from her husband’s grandmother. What is interesting about this babka is that it is formed into an elaborate round twist instead of the usual loaf shape.
Glezer’s recipe makes two babka loaves (total flour 26.5 ounces, or 13.25 ounce flour per loaf). I more or less followed Glezer’s filling recipe for one babka and experimented with my (Galitzianer) grandmother’s yeast coffee cake filling for the other.
Some people have complained that the Glezer babka recipe is too sweet, but it worked perfectly for me. Partly, this is because I like a sweet babka with lots of filling. Partly, this is because I did not follow the recipe exactly.
For the dough, I used oil instead of margarine or butter and substituted a teaspoon of cardamom for the freshly ground cinnamon. I made half the filling recipe because I was only using it for half the dough.
Here is what I used as a filling for one babka loaf : scant 1/2 cup sugar, five hugely heaping teaspoons of Dutch-process cocoa (Callebaut) (to more or less equal 3 Tbl. cocoa, but maybe it was more like 4 Tbl.), a generous teaspoon or so of coffee powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. cardamom, and four capfuls of corn oil (to equal 4 Tbl.).
After spreading this filling on the dough, I sprinkled over a few chocolate chips, some chopped Callebaut 60/40 bittersweet chocolate, a few Zante currants, and some walnuts (Just enough of these ingredients to scatter across the filling).
For the other bread, I made a meringue filling for yeast coffeecake that my grandmother taught me. You make a meringue with 3 egg whites and 1/2 cup of sugar. You can mix in some chopped nuts before spreading it on the dough. After spreading it on the dough, you sprinkle over chopped chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, and chopped nuts, if you have not already added them.
The Glezer recipe calls for 3 yolks in the dough, which gave me just the right amount of whites. I mixed a teaspoon of coffee powder into the meringue, along with a heaping cup of blanched almond meal. After spreading it on the dough, I sprinkled over some espresso flavored mini-chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips, and chopped Callebaut 60/40 bittersweet chocolate.
Here is the thing about the meringue filling. It looks fluffy and thick when you spread it on the dough, but it dissolves into the dough as it bakes, leaving just a residual moistness and a sticky sweetness that holds together add in like chopped nuts and raisins. It functions kind of like apricot jam in rugelach, but with a more neutral taste. The mere teaspoon of coffee powder and blanched almonds were insufficient for creating a strongly colored and flavored filling. Once the meringue melted into the dough, the filling all but disappeared color and flavor-wise. I needed to add more nuts, raisins, and chopped chocolate. Adding cocoa powder would have helped, too.
Oddly, the Lithuanian babka with the cocoa filling had a stronger coffee flavor, even though both babkas had the same amount of coffee powder added. You would think that the cocoa powder would overwhelm the coffee flavor, but it brought it out instead. So, the solution is either more coffee powder in the meringue filling, or some cocoa powder, or both. And the traditional chopped walnuts are a better choice here than blanched almonds, too, unless the almond flavor is amplified with almond extract.
In the end, I preferred the Lithuanian Babka cocoa filling, but only because I had been too shy about flavoring the meringue filling. Part of the reason I did not add in enough nuts, chopped chocolate, etc. was because the meringue was too thick for one babka. Three egg whites makes enough meringue to fill two babkas. The solution is a thinner layer of meringue (with finely chopped or ground nuts, coffee powder, cinnamon, and cocoa mixed in) and lots of nuts, raisins, and chopped chocolate sprinkled over.
It is also important to roll the dough thin so that you have thin layers of dough and filling. Glezer’s shaping technique for the babka worked wonderfully, although I was not able to get as gorgeous looking a loaf as I would have liked. Practice is probably the key here.
Glezer gives the option of baking the loaves in an 8″ or 10″ pan. I baked the loaf with the meringue filling in a 9″ pan and the loaf with the cocoa filling in a 10″ pan. The larger pan made for a much flatter loaf, of course. I’m not sure which I prefer. The flatter loaf is more danish-like. The higher loaf makes slices more like babka from the bakery.
They way that the loaf is shaped is interesting. You roll out an 18″ circle and cut it in half. Each half is spread with filling (leaving a half inch border all around) and rolled up from the curved side towards the flat side (the reverse of how you roll up rugelach or croissants). The resulting log of dough is folded in half and twisted. The second half of the dough is shaped the same way. Now you have two twists which wrap around each other in the pan.